Making A-W history: Graduating college before high school

Posted January 3, 2019 at 9:26 pm

Autumn Stowe.tif

By Julie Ann Madden

Making Akron-Westfield history wasn’t in her mind when senior Autumn Stowe set a goal of getting a collegiate degree along with graduating from high school four years ago.

But that is just what she has done. On Dec. 20, 2018, Autumn graduated from Western Iowa Tech Community College with an Associate of Arts degree in Arts & Science with honors — five months before she’ll graduate from high school.

In fact, she’ll actually be making A-W history again by the time she receives her high school diploma this coming May. She’ll have earned a second collegiate degree, Associate of Science, finishing her first four years of college with 76 credits — all while completing high school. If she stays on track, she’ll also be A-W Class of 2019’s valedictorian.

“Walking across the (WIT) stage was the moment I realized I’d actually done it,” said Autumn. “I hadn’t really processed it until I actually walked across and got handed my certificate holder and got my picture taken.”

Beginning with Intro to Psychology, Autumn earned nine collegiate credits her freshman year of high school and continued earning 23 college credits annually, which is the maximum credits A-W students are allowed to take. All but two classes were taken online.

Intro to Business was her hardest college class.

“I think I took that one a little young,” said Autumn. “I was by far the youngest in the class. Everyone else was like 25 on up and had a practical application of what we were learning and I did not. That was a hard course to understand without having experiences in the business world or even having experiences in general, it’s hard to sit down at age 15 or 16 the concepts you need to know to take that class.”

Chemistry I was my most fun class, she said. “I learned a lot in science in Akron-Westfield. I had teachers who encouraged me. I found my interest in A-W and that interest has only continued to grow. Mr. Kim Meerdink was my high school Chemistry teacher.”

“Part of achieving this degree was to prove to myself I could do it, and then the other part was that I’ve always tried to challenge myself academically,” said Autumn. “A really good way for me to do that in high school was to pursue that path. If I didn’t get my degree, I was going to come out of high school with a lot of college credits.”

“To underclassmen, even if nobody has done something before, don’t let that stop you because no one had done what I did at my school,” said Autumn “and now people know that’s a possibility. That almost stopped me knowing that no one had done it before — but I’m really happy with where I’ve ended up and how well I’ve done. If I hadn’t been willing to try something and maybe fail at it, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity.”

Being a role model is a lot of pressure but in a good way,” said Autumn. “It makes me want to do better because people are watching me. It’s a motivating factor.”

“If you have a goal, you need to start early — like the first semester of your freshman year,” said Autumn.

At Akron-Westfield, she participates in Large Group Speech, Individual Events Speech, Student Council, National Honor Society and FFA, serving as its chapter secretary. This year, Autumn also tutors students, helps teach Discovergarten students Spanish once a week and performs FFA community service activities. Outside of school, she works at Maynard’s Food Center and the Akron Veterinary Clinic. She is also a member of Westfield Congregational United Church of Christ.

Autumn is the daughter of Kammy and Jerry Walker of Akron and Rob and Kim Stowe of rural Westfield. She is the granddaughter of Donna and Bob Stowe, rural Westfield, and the late Connie and George Whitmore. Autumn has two brothers, her twin, Chase, and Bryce, an A-W freshman.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that Autumn wouldn’t accomplish this,” said her dad, Rob Stowe.

“We’re proud parents,” said Autumn’s mother, Kammy Walker.

“It was one of my proudest moments (watching her walk across the Western Iowa Tech graduation stage),” said Kammy. “That was pretty special because she really worked hard to make that happen.”

“It’s pretty exciting (that she made Akron-Westfield history),” said Walker. “I’m hoping she can pave the way for other students if they want to do the same thing or something similar that she has opened the doors for them. It’s pretty exciting that students can take college classes while they are in high school. I think it’s something all students should check into. It can really help them whether it’s one class or like Autumn did. It really helps them with their future. Autumn is very well prepared for college now. It’s a great opportunity. It’s free — the school pays for it The opportunity is huge. I encourage all to do it.”

“Having free college classes was a motivating factor,” said Rob.

“The only thing I’ve had to contribute monetarily for my degree is the gas mileage for getting to and from classes,” said Autumn.

When Autumn took her first college class her freshman year of high school, she told her mom of her goal to receive a collegiate degree along with her high school diploma.

Although her parents didn’t know how to make it happen, they received information and assistance from A-W Grades 7-12 Principal Derek Briggs, A-W High School Counselor Krista Weiland and Western Iowa Tech staff, including Susan Grau.

“They’d never had anybody do this either,” said Walker. “Among all of us, we just made it happen for Autumn — with her being the leader of it all.”

“I couldn’t have accomplished this without Mrs. Weiland and Mr. Briggs helping me — it’s not just me at all, it’s the whole school and my parents. They’ve worked with me every semester to allow me to take what I’ve taken, helping me to take all the classes I have. They’ve had a lot of faith in me. They could have told me no a bunch of times but they just kept saying yes.”

“She’s a very hard worker, a very determined young lady,” said Walker. “I had no doubt in my mind when she told me this is what she wanted to do that she would not make it happen.”

Autumn is the first A-W student to obtain a collegiate degree, said Briggs. “Autumn is not your typical high school student, and I say that with all respect and praise in the world that she from a young age has taken on a lot of challenges. Along the way we tried to provide caution to her because we didn’t want her to bite off more than she could chew but every time we turned around she wasn’t just passing her classes, she was nearly at the top of every class.”

“She’s going to graduate here with a college degree but her high school grades did not suffer at all because of the extra work she took on,” said Briggs. “It’s pretty impressive to watch. If you get a chance to know Autumn, it’s not a surprise. When she takes on a challenge, you can be assured it’s going to get every ounce of her being because that’s just the way she’s wired. It’s been pretty impressive to support a student like her.”

Autumn has already committed to attending the University of Northern Iowa in the fall. She’ll be studying Biochemistry and Psychology. Then she’ll head to medical school as she plans to become a doctor.

“I’ve always wanted to help people no matter what career I had,” said Autumn about why she is planning to be a doctor. “Right now, for me, looking where I’m at academically and where I could be in the next couple years, I think it makes the most sense for allowing me to have an impact on people and be able to have a positive effect on people in my life and the people I meet moving forward.”

Autumn had a celebratory supper with family members prior to participating in the graduation ceremony.

College Program

High school students can take college classes if they meet certain criteria such as meeting proficiency testing requirements.

Junior and senior students are automatically eligible to take college classes if they meet the criteria. In addition, freshmen and sophomores who participate in A-W Talented & Gifted (TAG) Program and meet the criteria are eligible.

“Those are the general parameters we have for students taking college classes,” said Briggs, encouraging students to meet with A-W High School Counselor Krista Weiland.

There is no cost to the students, said Briggs, noting the district spends on a typical year about $20,000 on the college classes.

Advanced Placement Courses

Advanced Placement classes are also an option students have but these courses may or may not count for college credit, he said. At the end of Advanced Placement classes, students must pass a test and depending on their test results, they may receive college credit or they may not.

Advanced Placement classes are somewhat more rigorous than college classes, he said. With college classes as long as the student passes the course, they receive college credit.

The college courses do not impact their high school Grade Point Average but they do accumulate toward their high school graduation credits, said Briggs.

Autumn didn’t take Advanced Placement classes.

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